Three killer “B”s (Or, Belle Amie, Blues Cat, and Absinthe Brevans H.R. Giger)

As mentioned in a previous post, the latest absinthe from Delaware Phoenix (which is reportedly a one-off batch, and won’t be replicated) is called Blues Cat, and it was made available in limited quantities last month. I was fortunate enough to snag a bottle from the kind folks at Catskill Cellars (whom I unabashedly endorse for their prompt shipping, excellent service, and tasteful selection of absinthe), and before too long a sloshed stork made its way here to reluctantly leave it on my doorstep.

Upon its arrival, I first noted the aesthetic similarities between this expression and the other two mainstays of the D.P. line, namely the Walton Waters and Meadow of love. The same bell-like bottle shape was used, along with its own color-coded wax cork (gold, in the case of the Blues Cat). Likewise, as is the case with the all of the D.P. absinthes, Cheryl Lins uses clear glass bottles instead of those of green, brown, or amber. Clear glass is an uncommon choice in the world of absinthe because the liquor is photosensitive, and the famous green-hued tones of a verte can quickly turn dull and brown after prolonged exposure to light. I’ve seen color change noticeably after only one day, and that doesn’t even take into account how it may have changed while shelved at the distillery or vendor’s warehouse. While the flavor is not impacted in any perceptible way, many absintheurs relish keeping their naturally-colored green fairy as green as it can be (artificial coloring is the sign of an inferior absinthe), so most of the folks I know who enjoy the D.P. absinthes will immediately store theirs in a cabinet (as do I) or place it in a UV-blocking bag or carrier of some sort. That is, unless they’re color-blind; in which case, to hell with the color altogether.

Soon after its debut, folks on various online sites became sampling and assessing the Blues Cat, and I noticed that a number of people were using  the word “peridot” in reference to the color. This surprised me because, although mine shipped the same week it was bottled and first made available, and I quickly noted the color before putting it in the closet, there wasn’t any hint of olive-green to be found. Instead, the liquid was dark yellow with a slight brown tinge, or perhaps “autumn gold” if you’re prone to flights of fancy superlatives. I’ll confess that taking such flights is one of my personal idiosyncrasies (and not a weakness, you damn philistines!)

Ahem. In any case, absintheurs who frequent online forums tend to get tetchy if you criticize something that they like, and even more so if you impugn their manner of assessing it. While I was doing neither when I wondered aloud how a fair number of reviewers were seeing peridot when I was seeing yellow with almost no green to speak of, their responses highlighted a couple of issues which contributed to the discrepancy. The most significant of these was in defining the word “peridot,” which is one of the most overused color adjectives in the absinthe world. (No one wants to say “it’s green” in every review, and since “tourmaline” sounds more like a rejected Chuck Berry song title than a color, “peridot” became the new black, so to speak.)

Wiki sums peridot up as follows: “Peridot is one of the few gemstones that occur in only one color, an olive green. The intensity and tint of the green, however, depends on how much iron is contained in the crystal structure, so the color of individual peridot gems can vary from yellow- to olive- to brownish-green.” It sounds simple enough, especially for we Americans who live in a culture of hyphenates; in this case, start with green, put a relevant hyphenated modifier in front of it, and you’re done. However, while more than one person linked to various photos of peridot gemstones online, and while I’m an internet junkie to roughly the same debilitating degree as the rest of our distracted modern first-world society, one of the areas in which computers do not excel is in the accurate display of color (even less so now that CRT monitors have been relegated to the scrap heap in favor of LCD screens, which are thinner and lighter but also generally suck in comparison). If you want to see the accurate representation of a color, particularly one which takes its name from a gemstone, then I recommend getting yourself to a jewelry store (“I’m just looking”), an artist’s color wheel, or better yet, a Pantone color book; with the Pantone book, you not only have an extremely comprehensive and accurate display of too many different shades of colors to count at your fingertips, but you have it bound in an extremely thick and heavy tool of bludgeoning to use as a weapon against anyone who disagrees with you about any damn thing.

Ultimately, I realized I was spending far too much time splitting hairs with fellow drinkers, so I decided to just have some absinthe. Please note that this line of thinking is almost always the wisest course to follow.

As a lark, and because I had too many bottles jammed into my absinthe cabinet to easily reach the ones in the back, I performed a little visual experiment to kill off a couple of nearly empty bottles. It just so happened that I had one dose (about 1.25 ounces, an approximation due to some variance between the hand-blown glasses) of both Belle Amie and Absinthe Brevans H.R. Giger left, and having a vague recollection of the extreme color differential between those two vertes, I decided to go for the hat trick and pour a dose of Blues Cat in between them. The results are below. Please note my caveat above and don’t think for a second that the colors you see on your screen are accurate in comparison to viewing them in real life with your own eyes; not only do you have the monitor display issue to think about, but you also have to contend with the fact that I’m a terrible photographer. Seriously, I used a brownish fake-formica background for this shot like I was taking a picture for the 1978 Sears catalog with my Kodak Brownie; it’s like I was trying too hard to not try at all, after my initial try at trying. In my defense, alcohol may have been a factor.

Anyway, I got some natural light angled in through the window, and what you’re seeing actually isn’t far off from the truth of things as I saw it. The Belle Amie on the far left is what I would consider to be a nearly textbook accurate representation of peridot; someone else described Blues Cat as being a “pale yellow peridot,” which I wouldn’t argue with now that the color changed a little bit since I first received the bottle; and lastly, there’s the Giger on the far right, which calls to mind its phonetic twin and the measuring of radioactivity – not in a negative “ohmygod, I’m gonna die!” sort of way, but more along the lines of, “this is the solution to the energy needs of a future utopian society.” Just be sure not to louche it with Ice-nine.

Speaking of louches, you can see those in the bottom photograph below. There’s even a video of this little experiment if you’re interested, complete with me mumbling to myself. All of these absinthes were louched at a water:absinthe ratio of 4:1 (without any sugar added), with the level of the Blues Cat being higher due to variations of the hand-blown glasses being used. Despite the fact that none of these three looked remotely similar, I’m happy to report that they all tasted very good, which ultimately leads to my most important observation of all for the evening: properly made absinthe is delicious, regardless of the color.

Belle Amie (left), Blues Cat (center), Absinthe Brevans H.R. Giger (right



  1. kissthewookiee said,

    June 8, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Humourous post and insightful video! May I have a glass of the H.R. Giger? What a gorgeous louche.

    This may blind readers with science, but I think you are just the absintheur to develop a scientific coloring system for absinthe. I would be willing to help with my background in chemistry and color science. Perhaps we could rent time with the local university’s spectrophotometer to develop something similar to the Standard Reference Method (SRM) used by brewers to specify beer color (see color template at bottom of linked page):

    Bad joke: we could call it a Giger Counter.

    • June 8, 2012 at 11:00 am

      The Giger does make an impression, The color is so vivid that it looks like a liquid emerald (flights of fancy, here we come), and as you’ve said, the louche is striking as well.

      Thomas Dolby be damned, an SRM-style system for absinthe would be a remarkable thing, although I’m not certain that the “styles” of a distilled liquor which then goes through a secondary coloration process (ala a “teabag” of various herbs being steeped in the distallate for a variable length of time) works near enough the same way to styles of beer for it to have much meaning, especially since that color can change noticeably and rapidly with relatively short exposure to light.

      Charting absinthe according to the herb bill would be of more interest (and, I believe, more meaning), and would provide a useful basis for comparison, but unfortunately, most distillers leave at least one or two of the herbs a secret due to proprietary reasons.

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